By Besim Abazi
PRISHTINA, KOSOVA – About midnight Sunday, reporter Shkumbin Kajtazi heard gunshots ring out in Mitrovica, the Kosovar city where he lives.
When he went outside, Kajtazi, who works for the news website Reporteri and runs his own outlet Jepi Zë (Give it Voice), found the window of his car shattered by bullets.
Images the journalist shared on Facebook show the driver’s-side window smashed and bullet holes in the car’s frame and interior.
Reporter Shkumbin Kajtazi said the attack on his car occurred about midnight Sunday, when it was parked in downtown Mitrovica, Kosova. (Facebook/shkumbinkajtazi)
Kajtazi told VOA on Wednesday that he couldn’t pinpoint any specific article that might have led to the attack, but as an investigative journalist and editor at Reporteri and owner of a local news site, “I think responsibility about any article we publish falls on me.”
Kosovan Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), leaders of institutions and political parties, and the Association of Journalists of Kosova all called for a swift investigation.
Hoti called on law enforcement to make the investigation a priority and reiterated that press freedom is guaranteed by law and protected.
“Attacks on journalists and media are direct attacks on democratic values. Therefore, they will be treated with priority by law enforcement agencies,” Hoti wrote on his Facebook account.
His calls were welcomed by U.S. Ambassador to Kosova Philip Kosnett. In a tweet Tuesday, Kosnett said journalists “deserve our respect and protection.”
Police said Sunday that they were investigating but had not determined who the suspects might be, or their motive.
The attack took place in Mitrovica, a city known for political tension, with the northern part dominated by ethnic Serbs and the south by ethnic Albanians. Overall, Kosova scores 36 out of 100 on Transparency International’s Corruption Index scale, where 0 signifies massive corruption.
“When I approached the place where I parked it, I saw that the car was seriously damaged,” reporter Shkumbin Kajtazi wrote on Facebook. He said there were “bullet holes and shells everywhere: in the driver’s seat, ceiling and back.” (Facebook/shkumbinkajtazi)
The shooting came months after an attempted arson against Kajtazi. In June, someone tried to set fire to the journalist’s car, but neighbors called the police, according to the media group International Press Association.
A suspect was arrested but has not been charged. Kajtazi said a prosecutor told him the suspect confessed and said it was because of the journalist’s work.
“It is disturbing that within a period of four months, there have been two attacks against [Kajtazi],” a statement from the Association of Journalists of Kosova said. “Every attack on journalists is an attack on the public interest and democracy in the country.”
The association described the latest attack as “extremely disturbing and aggravating not only the climate of journalism, but also endangering the lives of our colleagues.”
The OSCE also condemned what it called an “act of intimidation.”
Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister and chair of the ruling coalition partner, Alliance for the Future of Kosova, said “freedom is not complete without the right to speak.”
“Those who are trying to present Kosova as an insecure country, where free speech is violated, through cowardly attacks, must be detected and their very harmful activity for the country must be stopped,” Haradinaj wrote on Facebook.
At least one other journalist has been threatened in a separate case this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit.
In September, Ermal Panduri, who hosts a political talk show and is managing director of TV station RTV Dukagjini, received dozens of messages via Facebook users, including death threats.
The journalist said the threats started after he criticized the president over a land dispute with Serbia.
“If journalists cannot criticize the country’s politics without receiving a torrent of threats to their lives, then the press cannot operate freely in Kosova,” CPJ program director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said at the time.
Physical and verbal threats were listed by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as concerns in Kosova, alongside cyberattacks on news websites.
“Many media in Kosova are not financially stable, which makes them susceptible to political influence and often results in self-censorship,” RSF said in its 2020 press freedom index.
This story originated in VOA’s Albanian Service.